By Professor Phillip Barrish
Concentrating on key works of late-nineteenth and early- twentieth-century American literary realism, Phillip Barrish strains the emergence of recent methods of gaining highbrow prestige—that is, new methods of gaining some extent of cultural popularity. via prolonged readings of works by means of Henry James, William Dean Howells, Abraham Cahan, and Edith Wharton, Barrish emphasizes the diversities among realist modes of cultural authority and people linked to the increase of the social sciences.
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Extra info for American Literary Realism, Critical Theory, and Intellectual Prestige, 1880-1995
This ghastly travesty of a design – in addition to everything else that it is – becomes an aesthetic error. 48 Throughout Howells’s realist novels of the s, the language of aesthetic error appears when the single-minded pursuit of some social or political vision comes up, even if, or rather especially if, the vision is one that Howells himself sympathizes with. Most of the radical activists who play supporting roles in these novels – both Conrad Dryfoos and Lindau in A Hazard of New Fortunes, for instance, as well as Hughes in The World of Chance and the Reverend Peck in Annie Kilburn – do not recognize the complexities that surround their passionately pursued projects.
At the book’s close, when the Laphams have moved safely back to Northern Vermont, Bromfield takes pleasure in (as we might put it) Norseifying them, imagining them as “far off in their native fastnesses” (p. 26 But this hodgepodge of picturesquing moves becomes less accessible to Bromfield in the moment that he first learns of Tom’s marriage and the long-term regular contact with the Laphams that the marriage will likely mean: “It’s a perspective without a vanishing-point,” he complains (p. ).
As Howells found it increasingly difficult to envision positive social change actually transpiring in America, his imagination of an ethically consistent society, as well as of individuals able to live ethically consistent lives, restricted itself to the realm of admittedly utopian “fable”: his writing about the imaginary land of Altruria. In his proclaimedly “realist” novels, by contrast, the question of what posture a wellintentioned middle-class intellectual should take – not so much towards American Literary Realism any specific detail or even towards the general texture of America’s social conditions as toward the abstract but ineradicable difficulties that these social conditions presented – came more and more to the fore.
American Literary Realism, Critical Theory, and Intellectual Prestige, 1880-1995 by Professor Phillip Barrish